Alfred Hitchcock's "The Wrong Man" -- A Brief Analysis


                                   Hitchcock was always keen to show the true cost of people's actions, and usually presented his thesis within the framework of melodrama. But, in the movie "The Wrong Man" (1956), he doesn't present us any symbolic man. The reincarnation of fate picks out The Wrong Man out of a hat and does bad things to him. In this case, it is the System of Justice which is the villain -- not only does it physically incarcerate the protagonist Manny (Henry Fonda), but also it mentally traps his wife's mind (Vera Miles). The story was drawn from a real life incident, which came out in Life magazine as "The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero." Though based on a case of mistake identity, Hitchcock has amply used his art of characterization and suspense, as you might see in any of his classics. Hitchcock was mainly stirred to make this true story because of his long-standing fear of the police.

                                  Manny is a musician at The Stork Club. He is a family man with a wife and two young sons. One day, he goes to an insurance office to take out a loan on his wife's insurance. The woman there mistakenly identifies him as the man who help up the office twice before. Manny is arrested, interviewed, identified in a line-up, paraded in front of store owners, booked, held overnight, arraigned and finally put in jail. During the interrogation, Manny makes a nervous mistake -- he misspells the word drawer as 'draw', the same error made by real robber on his ransom note.

                                 Manny's family raises bail and hires lawyer O'Connor (Anthony Qualyle) to represent him. However, the strain of the ordeal is too much for Manny's wife, Rose. She begins to crack down under the pressure and she was put in a mental institution. Soon, the trial begins and the witnesses once again identify Manny as the hold-up man. When a juror complains about O'Connor's questions a mistrial is ruled, so the process must begin all over again. Legal justice is eventually served in the end, through a miracle, but Manny and his family pays a considerable price for his freedom -- both economically and psychologically.

                                 Stark black and white realism is the visual style. Robert Burks -- Hitchcock's regular -- has bestowed the film with an amazingly real photography, with the Hitchcock touches we know and love: following Manny through his door; seeing the police station and jail through Manny's eyes; seeing half a face; Manny looking at hands and feet of his fellow prisoners, not their faces; Rose seen as small or at angels to show that she is retreating from the world; the speculative cops shown in a menacing top light. Like "Rear Window" (1954), this is a model of storytelling since most of Manny's emotions are transmitted through pictures, not words. 

                                 Hitchcock has also used the sound effects in an effective manner. Manny's growing terror of the process of being booked is shown by both his face, and by growing noise of the process, culminating in the jail where lots and lots of prisoners can be heard but none of them seen. "The Wrong Man" is Henry Fonda's first and only performance for Hitchcock. Fonda subtly conveys his characters pain and suffering. You can see this ideal quality in the scene, where he confronts his wife (after the exoneration) in the mental home. 

                                 Most of the dramatic possibilities are drained, giving way to stark overtones, as the spectator realizes that the very same could happen to him, if he fell into such a situation. Hitchcock used the same buildings, the same words and, in some cases, the same people involved in the case. "The Wrong Man" was not generally rated among the master's best works, largely because of his unwillingness to dramatize the events. Although the film unfolds like a docu-drama, you can find plenty of Hitchcock's themes (complicity of guilt, notion of justice, to name a few) and touches. One of Hitchcock's most under-rated film that never got its due.


The Wrong Man -- IMDb
misspelling the word drawer as draw, the same error made on the robber's ransom note - See more at:
misspelling the word drawer as draw, the same error made on the robber's ransom note - See more at:


Unknown said...

Have always enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock's work.

vinay said...

One of my favorite Hitchcockian films.
Good analysis as always. :)

Arun Kumar said...

@ Athenas Take, Thanks for the comment.

@Vinay, Thanks for your comment.

Ravi said...

Saw this film a few years back.

The tension which is built is like a slow poison. Very good review of the film.

Arun Kumar said...

@ Ravi, Thanks for the comment. You are right, it's perfectly Hitchcockian. Even though it based on real events, Hitchcock's sure-handed shots possesses lots of intrigue.

Anil Krishnanunni said...

I must check this out soon! Good analysis :)

Arun Kumar said...

@ Anil Krishnanunni, Thanks for the comment. Keep visiting the blog.